Third Sunday of Advent 2022
There’s the story of a Rector being called to another parish and,
on his last Sunday, saying farewell.
He was shaking the hand of an elderly member on her way out,
when she said, “Your successor won't be as good as you.”
“Nonsense,” said the Rector, in a flattered tone.
“No, really”, she said, “I've been here under four different Rectors,
and each new one has been worse than the last.”
For centuries, the third Sunday of Advent has been Gaudete Sunday.
“Gaudete” is the first word from the introit (opening/entrance verse) in Latin.
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!
(Philippians, chapter 4, verse 4).
One rejoices, of course, not when someone is saying farewell.
The joyous focus of Advent, as you know, is Christ coming.
Three-fold coming, we could say:
Christ “born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
Christ present and transforming through Word and in Sacrament.
Christ to return in glory to be our merciful Judge on the last day.
And Advent has a fitting penitential character to it,
entails “cleaning house” to make room for Christ coming.
The color associated with “Gaudete” is rose.
Rose is violet, which suggests penance,
approaching white, which suggests luminous, transformative presence
suggesting the “already, not yet” of our bond with Christ.
For today’s celebration, like last Sunday, we have John the Baptist.
The Church can’t seem to get enough JB!
There is indeed no one like John the Baptist
to prepare the way of the Lord.
An extraordinary, moving, and, frankly, very odd character.
As the Reverend Fleming Rutledge says,
irreducibly strange, gaunt and unruly, lonely and refractory,
utterly out of sync with his age or our age or any age.
Not an immediate asset at a dinner party!
Nonetheless: extraordinary and moving and invited and present at this party!
He is entirely about Christ.
Consumed with zeal for the Messiah which makes him odd, that is,
far from ordinary, out of sync with the popular preoccupations of the age.
He is simply the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.
He seems to have no identity outside of Jesus.
Normally, humanly speaking, when we are totally relative to someone else,
it’s a problem.
With John, this is not unhealthy dependence or attachment disorder.
This is about purpose, awe, surrender and being an instrument of God.
And an amazing thing: John is “in the dark” while living all of this.
John the Baptist is Jesus’ cousin.
Presumably aware of this, John’s focus, however,
is Jesus as the Messiah, his Messiah.
Hence, in John’s gospel, when Jesus finally appears to be baptized,
John needs a sign to recognize Jesus: the dove alighting.
I myself did not know him he declares twice (John 1:31,33).
And between this lack of knowledge, Jesus not visiting John in prison and,
from prison, here, John asking, via his disciple-messengers:
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
we witness compelling poverty of spirit, John so very much in the dark.
Why is this? I surmise so that he be absolutely surrendered
and purely the voice of the Holy Spirit.
John’s joy lies in his being a unique instrument in the hand of God.
What is it to be an instrument of God?
It’s hard even to think in such terms.
We typically think in terms of what we do, in terms of productivity
and, on a good day, our efforts at inter-personal decency.
We don’t think in terms of God taking hold of us and working through us.
Too abstract. Too unproductive. Too mysterious.
Perhaps, John the Baptist can help us to understand this and, better,
to surrender to Jesus with awe and trust.
Our joy too lies in our being instruments in the hand of God.
God does not want simply to shower us with blessings
and we sit passively as though on Santa’s lap.
God wants to take loving hold of us, so much so that
we be transformed and He be able to love through us.
Indeed, at the end of the Mass, after having been fed, having been loved,
we are sent forth: instruments of light and goodness, in peace and hope,
rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.
Mother Teresa says,
I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God
who is sending a love letter to the world.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!